Local

Once you could count only a dozen. Now they flock to Skagit County by the thousands.

A pair of trumpeter swans fly over their winter grounds Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in Conway, Wash. Hundreds of the swans join tens of thousands of snow geese from their mating grounds in Alaska and Siberia, spending the winter in wetlands and farm fields of the Skagit Valley and other areas of northwest Washington.
A pair of trumpeter swans fly over their winter grounds Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in Conway, Wash. Hundreds of the swans join tens of thousands of snow geese from their mating grounds in Alaska and Siberia, spending the winter in wetlands and farm fields of the Skagit Valley and other areas of northwest Washington. AP

This time of year, Allan and Barb Fredrickson get sentimental about the years they spent living on Swan Road northeast of Mount Vernon and the trumpeter swans with which they shared their land.

The couple bought their farmstead at the north edge of Barney Lake in 1966 and was delighted the following winter to have seven trumpeter swans spend the season with them at the lake.

“They were large, pure white, beautiful and we loved to hear them trumpet as they lifted off the lake and headed for their feeding grounds,” Allan Fredrickson said. “Many of the local residents came to our farm to walk down to the lake, watch the swans and take pictures.”

The population wintering at Barney Lake increased over the years, from seven, to 12 and 17 the following years, according to Allan Fredrickson’s notes.

“In 1967, we noticed that they came in the middle of November. Every year after that we kept track … and we were amazed that it was always within a few days,” he said.

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, with wingspans averaging 7 feet.

Now, thousands of trumpeter swans – along with some of their smaller cousins, the tundra swans – flock each year to areas throughout Skagit County.

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, according to Canadian and U.S. wildlife agencies. Their wingspans average 7 feet and they stand taller than most kindergartners, at an average of 4 feet.

Those seen in Skagit County are part of the Pacific Coast population – one of three found across the continent.

The large white birds were once abundant from Alaska to California, before hunting dramatically reduced the population in the early 1900s, according to a November 2015 Canadian Wildlife Service report titled “Population status of migratory game birds in Canada.”

In the 1960s, when the U.S. Endangered Species Act was created, the trumpeter swan was considered for listing as an endangered, meaning at risk of extinction, according to the Trumpeter Swan Society.

The listing was called off after about 2,000 of the birds were found in Alaska. Yet conservation in Canada and the U.S. continued – today hunting the birds remains prohibited in both countries – and the population from Alaska south grew.

The recovery of the species is celebrated as a conservation success.

By the time the Fredricksons moved from their Barney Lake farm to a home in Mount Vernon, they were seeing hundreds of the birds each winter.

“The lake would be full when they would come in from feeding. We couldn’t even count,” Allan Fredrickson said.

Martha Jordan of the Northwest Swan Conservation Association said about 15 trumpeter swans were reported in Skagit County in the early 1960s – quite possibly those reported by the Fredricksons – and by 1975 the number reached about 150 birds.

The number of swans seen in Skagit and surrounding counties continues to grow, and Jordan and association volunteers continue to survey them alongside the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.

They counted about 11,000 trumpeter swans in January 2017, and about 1,000 of their smaller cousins the tundra swans.

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